Blog : Practical, Provident and Posh: Right-sized Homes Blend Sustainability with Beauty

By Madalyn | Nov 13, 2014 | in

By Heikki (Herb) Perry

PORTSMOUTH —Deb Regan, a Laurel Court resident, lived two blocks away on Mangrove Street when she first happened upon her future neighborhood. She had become intrigued by the construction of what was described as a “high-performance” subdivision.

She took a tour of the Laurel Court model home when it opened in March 2012 and came away impressed. But it was when she took a formal tour of the home with a Realtor that she experienced an epiphany. The agent noticed an immediate change in Regan’s visage as she entered the home. “What’s the matter?” the Realtor inquired of Regan. “You look like you’re in pain.”

“Yes,” said Regan, acknowledging the change but confessing a different cause: “I really like it,” she said about the house. She moved into 72 Laurel Court, the third home completed in the development, in September 2012. She is glad she did.

A small enclave of 19 homes about a mile from downtown Portsmouth, Laurel Court is an "urban green" cluster development. Chinburg Properties spent considerable time collaborating with the project architect, Wendy Welton of Art Form Architecture, to ensure the homes would be a modern version of the adjacent historic Atlantic Heights neighborhood, which originally housed Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers. The last Laurel Court home sold in 2013.

The commitment to build all 19 Laurel Court homes to meet high-performance standards is what set this project apart. “Not only is Laurel Court the first 100 percent high-performance neighborhood in the Seacoast, it’s likely the first market-rate development of its kind in the state of New Hampshire,” says Geoff Spitzer, Chinburg’s senior project manager, a LEED Accredited Professional. LEED is the highest industry benchmark for certified green building.

Chinburg’s second 100 percent high-performance home subdivision, Greenland Commons, is now underway with home lots still available.

Chinburg Properties has been an ENERGY STAR (E-star) construction company since 2002 and built Laurel Court as a 100 percent high-performance development per E-star standards. Laurel Court homeowners average $954 in annual savings on their energy bills when compared to conventionally built homes in the area and reduce 4.5 tons of carbon emissions. With an average Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of 52.7, Chinburg homes at Laurel Court save nearly double the energy of a standard house, which has an average HERS score of 100.

A confluence of factors has elevated the status of sustainable living here on the Seacoast. “As a result of the downturn in the economy, combined with rising energy costs and concerns about global warming, there is a heightened awareness and desire to reduce the energy use of homes. The high-performance home concept takes all this even further,” Spitzer says.

Jen Chinburg, the company’s marketing director, agrees. “There’s been a shift in the marketplace to smaller, right-sized homes that look great and live beautifully, as well as being energy efficient. People have really responded to these homes, and word has spread quickly.”

Most aspects of Regan’s 72 Laurel Court home are based on the model home, which is located at 4 Laurel Court (shown in the accompanying photographs). During a tour of her house, Regan shows various high-performance features that allow her to save money on energy costs — despite moving up from a 900-square-foot residence to her new 1,800-square-foot home.

Followed by Miss Molly, a Jack Russell- Chihuahua mix, Regan starts in the basement. She points out her on-demand hot water heater. It obviates the need to continually heat water all day, a significant source of energy drain. The model home features a solar water-heating system (as seen on the roof in the exterior photo of the home).

Chinburg Properties downsized heating and cooling systems in Laurel Court homes, installing in each a high efficiency gas furnace and central air conditioning to reduce energy costs without sacrificing comfort. What allow Chinburg to downsize those functions are what Spitzer calls “extraordinary air sealing details — a combination of spray-foam and fiberglass-insulated walls, a high volume of blown-in insulation in the attics, and the use of a cutting-edge wall-sheathing system that has a rigid-insulation-foam core, providing excellent uninterrupted insulation on all of the exterior walls.” Together, these sustainable elements keep homes cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

Upstairs in the kitchen, Regan’s cat, Sissy Girl, appears atop a high chair, eyeing Miss Molly warily. Regan pets Sissy Girl, steps back and displays with a wave of her hand the Energy Star-rated fixtures and appliances. They include a Whirlpool dishwasher, Badger garbage disposal, General Electric microwave oven, a Whirlpool oven and range hood, and a Jenn-Air refrigerator. The countertops are locally sourced concrete, and the floor is bamboo, a sustainable resource. Regan did opt for some upgrades. “I knew this was it for me,” she says about the house, “so I got what I wanted.”

Walking to a rear window, she notes that every Laurel Court house has a patio and deck. Regan then turns 180 degrees to face the front of her home. “One thing I liked about the Laurel Court homes — especially this one — is the open concept on the first floor. It’s very open and airy,” she says. At a party Regan held a year ago, about 40 people congregated in that space, “yet it didn’t seem crowded at all,” she says.

Walking across the room to the front, she steps into her smartly furnished office, which, through a bay window, offers a pleasant view of the cul-de-sac on which her house sits.

Regan describes the second floor as “a very efficient layout.” It features two adjoining guest bedrooms, a guest bathroom with concrete countertops — which she calls “more forgiving than granite” — and a washer-dryer.

The upstairs has “tons of closet and storage space,” she says, amply demonstrated by a 15-foot walk-in closet in the master bedroom. “As a woman, that was one of the big selling features of this house.”

Both the second-floor guest bathroom and the master bathroom have a dual-flush toilet. “If you don’t need as much water, you don’t use as much water, which saves you money on your bill,” says Regan. The home also features dual heating controls, one upstairs, the other downstairs, for more targeted heating and cooling. The house was finished with no-VOC-paint and carpets.

“Right away I realized that I was saving money living in this house,” Regan says. “I thought my electric bill would be higher because this is a bigger house, as would the gas bill with the heat. But when I got my first couple of bills, I said, ‘Wow, it’s next to nothing’ — even with the gas fireplace running all the time.”

During the period from April 2011 through March 2012 — a span with a mild winter — Regan paid $2,166 to heat her old 900-square-foot house with oil. During the same period two years later — a time that featured the coldest winter in a decade — Regan spent $940 in natural gas, not only to heat her Laurel Court home, but also to cook with her gas stove and use the gas fireplace. She saved $1,226.

“I don’t like to be cold, but I also don’t like putting on sweaters or wearing extra clothing when I’m inside during winter,” she says. “So I turned the temperature up and used the fireplace constantly. I like to be warm.”